Saturday, July 30, 2011

Half Way, But Almost Home

Our cross-country RV adventure is at the half way point. We have arrived on Vancouver Island in the city of Courtenay, BC. This is the place that my sister Linda has decided to call home. Although it is very inconsiderate of her to live in a place that is as far away as she can get while still living in Canada, it does give us “East Coasters” a reason to visit this beautiful part of our country.

Home Away From Home
When we originally informed Linda that we would be coming out with Dad and Sharon in the RV, she did some research and reported back with a number of local RV Parks we could use during our stay here. I informed her that this was not what I had in mind, and I would prefer if we could pull into her yard somehow. I have been out to see her before and as I remembered the house, there was an old driveway to one side beside the fence that I thought might be large enough for the trailer. I sent her rough dimensions and she assigned her husband Pete to work on the logistics of my request.

It would certainly have worked to park in an RV Park. There are a couple not too far away, and we could still spend lots of time with her, but there is just something nice about visiting family and staying close to them that made me want to park in her yard. You have to find a way to hook up water, household “outside plugs” are rarely 30 amp, so we would not have the use of the Air Conditioner if it got hot, and there is certainly no place to hook up the sewer, but, parking in the yard of family just somehow feels like “home” more than another in a long list of RV Parks.

Linda got back to me after a couple of days, and said that Pete was working on a solution. There wasn't room on the old driveway because there was a tree in the way – I don't recall a tree, but it has been five years since I was there. He was going to look at some other options. He had to measure the back lane and consult with some of his neighbours. This sounded positive, and a follow-up contact a couple of days later informed us that Pete had indeed figured it all out. He had removed the tree out beside the driveway – Linda said she didn't really like that tree anyway, and this was an excuse to get rid of it, and he thought that although we would have to park with the trailer door away from the house, we would fit there. He also had negotiated with a neighbour who would allow us to park in his lane-way at the back of the house which would also fit the trailer. He is a “Trailer Towing” RVer as well, so this kind offer is not unexpected – RVers are like that.

Linda & Pete's Garden
When we arrived I examined the options and elected to try to fit the trailer into the old driveway beside the house. There was a tall fence on one side and a large tree out by the road I would have to manoeuvre around to get it in, but Pete had done a great job of clearing a spot – there was even fresh grass growing where the offending tree had once stood. After looking everything over I decided to pull the trailer in so the door was on the house side and I thought I should be able to then back the truck out over the lawn. I asked permission to try this approach, because Linda and Pete are proud of their yard and have put a lot of effort into making it look its best. Deep holes cut by spinning tires would not have been appreciated. Pete said that he felt the lawn was hard enough, and besides, Linda was not home from the airport yet so could not object.

Everything worked perfectly. The trailer fit, and it is nice and level, the slideout didn't hit the fence, and using both water hoses I could get to the outside tap on the other side of the house. Pete had to do some more trimming of the trees around the trailer as he had underestimated the height of the trailer, but again assured us it was something that needed to be done anyway.

Dutch Style BBQ
And I was right, it does almost feel like home. Linda arrived with her oldest son Chris from Alberta, and our youngest sister Margaret and her daughter had arrived earlier. Linda's daughter Tracey was also here, and with boyfriends, partners and grandchildren, we had a large family barbecue in their back yard surrounded by Linda's twinkling dragon fly lights and beautiful gardens. There was a total of 14 people enjoying Pete's barbecue skills. As the rest of the family packed into cars to drive up the mountain to the chalet to go to bed, I was happy to allow Pete to pour me another glass of his delicious homemade red wine, and watch the sun set and the various garden lights come on, knowing that I was already “home”.

Friday, July 22, 2011


I have made it one of my “travel mandates”, to find and taste as many locally brewed beers as possible. This was especially fun while on the canal boat in England, and I found over 25 interesting local brews in our two weeks there. A positive side affect of sampling the local brews, is that when you ask for something “local”, you usually get a positive response from the servers, who seem to have a degree of pride in their local breweries, and are often very willing to give opinions on which local beers are best. One server in Bangor, Maine, was so interested in my opinion of the local ales, that after sampling one, he insisted on me trying the second at no charge.

The brews in America, do not have the variety or the flavor of the beers in England, but what can you expect from the land where “Bud Light” is usually the beer of choice. By ordering the local “craft” beers, you can get a brew with some taste and personality.

A partial list of the brews I have sampled on this trip so far follows. Most are from the later part of the trip, because I forgot to write the names down from the East Coast where I found some good ones, and had difficulty in the Central States finding “local” beer. A waitress in Ohio, had no idea what I meant when I asked for a “craft” beer.

Grand Canyon Amber Ale - Grand Canyon Brewing Co.

Ugly Pug Black Lagar - Rahr & Son’s Brewing, Fort Worth, Texas

Laguritas I P A - Laguritas Brewing Company, Petaluma, California

Moonlight ’Reality Czeck Pilsner’ - Santa Rosa, California

Downtown Brown - Lost Coast Brewery & Cafe, Eureka, California

I had a nice beer with my lunch during a stop in Death Valley, that the server said was “local”, but I’m not sure how they get enough water to make beer on the hottest driest spot in North America.

I see that I have an email from Alisha (daughter), asking when we will be arriving in Vancouver. She is visiting a friend there, who has worked in the brewing industry, and has a great local brew he wants me to try. That’s what happens when you develop a reputation for enjoying good local beer. I think I’ve said it before . . . . But. . . .life is tough!

Automobiles in America

Nice old Hudson
I like cars. In fact I like anything mechanical. I enjoy motorcycles, trains, trucks, airplanes, and even farm machinery. When I travel, I am constantly on the lookout for interesting cars sharing the road with me. For my car-nut friends, here are some of the vehicles I have encountered so far.

We saw a nice variety of porsches while driving across Texas. Everything from a nice 356 to new boxers and other new models to a very rusty 914, all heading in the opposite direction; I’m assuming to a local Porsche gathering.

We passed Denny Hamlin’s Sprint Cup car on the way to Kentucky Speedway, and one of his show cars parked next to us at a rest stop.

Through New Mexico I saw four nice professional off-road racing buggies on their way to an event, and there was an NHRA drag race the weekend after we left San Francisco, so I saw a lot of dragsters on their way to the event.

On the bus in Las Vegas, we followed a nice red ferrari down the “Strip”.

Did you know that BMW’s little convertible two seated sports car is exactly the same length as the width of an 18 wheeler? I know this from coming across an accident on a long bridge where a little white BMW was neatly stuck to the front bumper of a big truck. It had just happened, and the driver who didn’t look badly hurt was still in the car. Imagine getting into a situation where you are being pushed down the road sideways by an 18 wheeler on your drivers door. The car fit so nicely on the front of the semi, that I doubt that either driver could see the other - very scary for both drivers!

While Driving through Oakland, California, a member of the famous (or infamous) Oakland chapter of the Hells Angles passed us on his Harley.

Peugeot Pickup?
Outside the nice little lunch spot I blogged about previously, was parked a Peugeot pickup truck. It was probably from the early sixties, and I suspect a home-made pickup, since I was not aware Peugeot even made a pickup, especially for export to the states.

I have read articles stating that the days of finding classic American automobiles sitting beside the road, in old barns, or in wrecking yards was long over. I can report that this is definitely not so, especially through the South-West. I suspect you will not find many two door 1957 Chevys waiting for you to restore, but I saw lots of interesting vehicles from the 50s, 60s & 70s sitting wanting loving restoration.
Being Towed to a better life

We pulled into a rest stop in Arizona, and a road beside the access ramp were were six pickups from the  50 all parked in a row, quietly rusting away, but mostly intact, and still on inflated tires. In Nevada, I saw three old sedans from the 50s sitting abandoned beside the road, looking like they had failed on a trip out old route 66, and have remained there ever since. We passed a junk yard off to one side of the road where I saw about four Corvairs sitting in a row, all looking restorable.

I would have loved to stop and add some of these “Sleeping Beauties” to my collection of photographs of old abandoned vehicles, but this is difficult when pulling a trailer. I had a difficult time just finding a picture for the blog posting, and was lucky to get the one old car you see here. If I was driving a car I would have been able to stop and explore some of these old cars. I guess it’s just another excuse to come back another time.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Bit Rustic . . .

A "Rustic Park"
Ok now, you already read my rant about the different campgrounds we have run into, but tonight's campground is worth a few words.

A year or so ago, we discovered Passport America, a discount RV service that gives you 50% off the regular rate on campgrounds. Of course not all campgrounds are on their list. It is mostly campgrounds a little off the beaten track, or newly opened ones wanting to increase their clientele. If you can find one on your route, it is definitely worth while.

When we left San Francisco, we had no set destination in mind, because we did not know how long it would take me to install the two new springs, and we had no clear idea how far we would get. Once we were on the road and the trailer seemed to be bouncing along just fine, we started figuring out where we could get, and where we might stop for the night. It looked like Redding California was a workable destination.

I decided to give the “Travel Planner” a break, and since dad was driving and Regis was navigating, I took the campground directories, and tried to find a campground for the night. The Passport America directory listed a campground just past Redding. It was called “Trail In” and it listed lots of sites, full service and was only a mile off the I-5 Interstate which we were following. I looked in Woodall's and found a number of other places, but nothing that was that much better than this one. Now as we drove by Redding we did see a place called “Durango Resort” with fountains, paved sites and lots of BIG expensive rigs, but we decided it was probably in the $75.00 range so we ignored it and kept going.
Yum, fresh blackberries

The instruction in the directory, agreed with the GPS, and when we were told to “Enter on the Right”, the sign and entry were actually on the right. The hand lettered signs directed us to the office, and we parked and Regis and I went it. Two young men sitting on the front deck said “hello” and tipped a beer to me as I walked in. Behind the counter was another young man with a pony-tail who said “You planning to stay with us tonight?”.

I told him we would like to stay, and he said it was $25.00. Regis pulled out her Passport America Card and I plunked a couple of locally brewed beer I found in the cooler on the counter, and he changed the price to $20.00 all in.

Normally when you enter a campground you get a map, code for the washrooms & laundry, location of the various amenities, and “Rules”. Here he said if you want a pull-through, just drive around the office, follow the road and pick a site you like the looks of. No rules, no instructions, no nothing. Regis reluctantly asked about WiFi Internet, not expecting much. He looked at her and replied “Oh, you want internet, no problem, I'll watch where you park and I'll point the router in your direction so you get a good signal. Enjoy your stay!”

Now it's no KOA, but we have 30 amp, Cable TV, and full hookup. Dad reports that the washrooms and showers are the “Shower-Shoes” variety, but not really that bad. It is a nice quiet campground right in the mountains, and just fine for the night. I even found a patch of California blackberries down the drive that were just ripening – just perfect to add to Sharon's fruit salad she was preparing for dessert.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Lunch in a Barn

With a day to wait for new springs to get the trailer bouncing back down the road, we decided to take a trip up the coast through the Sonoma Valley, across and back down the Napa Valley. We decided to try to find a couple of wineries to visit for tasting, and find someplace to have a nice lunch.

The first thing we discovered was that the biggest problem in finding a winery to visit was not in finding one it was in choosing which one to visit. There are literally hundreds of wineries along the way. They are one after the other all along the route, and they all seem to have tasting rooms. Purely by chance, we picked two to stop at. They ended up being a good contrast, and gave us a good taste of the region.

Kendall Jackson Winery
The first was the Kendall Jackson Winery. This is a brand I know from home, and I can buy their wine in Canada. It is a very high end winery, and was situated on a huge estate with an amazing garden. There was a “Garden” tour starting just as we arrived, so I bought a glass of one of their reds, and went out into a beautiful “Not a cloud in the sky” California summer day to casually tour their gardens with a guide. It was very pleasant to stroll through the beautiful estate from garden to garden with the guide explaining about the various plants and garden designs while sipping on a glass of delicious Californian wine. It certainly made me forget all about having to fix the trailer tomorrow.

Our next stop was a smaller winery called Foppiano Vineyards. It was considerable smaller, and much more casual. In fact as I was tasting and purchasing a bottle of wine we discovered that the owner was there in the room and quite impressed that these folk from Nova Scotia were all the way out here tasting his wine. Again, the wine was excellent. I liked all the samples, but chose a “Petit Sarrah” which I discovered was a good choice since it is their speciality.

You know, this wine tasting is a fun activity – it might be worth another visit to California . . .

BarnDiva for Lunch
Then came the real treat of the day. Everyone was getting a bit hungry, so we stopped at a little town called Healdsburg, where we were told we would find a good choice of eating places. We drove into town and parked in a nice 3 hour limit (Free) parking spot right on the town square – gives you an indication of the size of the town. Sure enough, there were a number of interesting places to have lunch. I scouted on ahead to look around , and after seeing all that the streets on the square had to offer, I headed down a side street where I saw an interesting looking little pub. After rejecting the “Pub”, I noticed a large red building with umbrellas in front, and an old funky truck parked out front. It was called “Barndiva”, and proved to be a real “find”.

There was a menu posted out front, and I immediately liked the look of it. I thought this was a place Ryan (Our Son) would approve of. It boasted a “Sustainable” menu of local food, and the items on the menu all seemed very interesting. Well, they did to me . . . . dad grumbled about not seeing anything he would want. Sharon & Regis agreed, so poor dad was once again outvoted (We got him through Death Valley on a “majority” vote as well), and we went in.

This really was a top class restaurant. The food was amazing, the service was exemplary, and the atmosphere was very nice. In fact it was so good, you sort of forgot that it was a ethical eating establishment.

Two examples of the service were; our water glasses were refilled the entire time we were there, including after we finished and were waiting to leave; and when Regis got up to go to the washroom, the waitress came over and refolded her napkin – I've never seen that before. All the wait staff were attendant, but never pushy.

A delicious menu!
The food was the real treat. Everything was amazing! I ordered a salad of Heirloom beets, Apple, Endive, Avocado, Watercress, Walnut, and Warm Chevre. I asked the waitress if I could substitute Goat cheese for the Chevre cheese, explaining my difficulty with cows milk. She said she thought that it was a goats cheese anyway , but would check with the kitchen. She did however suggest that it was a “Light” meal and wondered if I'd like an appetizer. I said “No, I thought I'd be fine.” but she then mentioned the “Goat Cheese Croquettes with House-made Tomato jam and Lavender Honey” OMG how did she know that was my second choice? I ordered it to share with everyone.

The goat cheese croquettes were delicious little deep fried balls of goat cheese mixed with Tomato jam and lightly coated in a crumb crust sitting in lavender honey. I'm sorry Linda Saunders, but I have to steal your expression – it was “To Die For!”.

My main course was an amazing mixture of roasted red and white beets mixed with apple, walnuts, avocado, and orange, with just enough “greens” to call it a salad. I do not know what the dressing was, and I don't care, because what ever it was it worked to perfection. I was pleased to note that the chef decided not to chance the possibility of cows milk in the cheese, and instead gave me two more of the Goat cheese croquettes – yum!

Oops, forgot the picture . . . .
Everyone's meal was equally delicious. Regis and Sharon had the Crab Club sandwiches, and Dad had the Quiche. By the time he started his meal, even he was raving about the taste. I have included a photo of the menu so you can see the other amazing choices. Sorry Alisha, the food was so good all I got for a photo was empty plates!

We even decided to have dessert, since there was a fabulous sounding strawberry shortcake, and the waitress had the cook make me a special “milk free” sorbet to go with the French Press coffee.

This really was an amazing find and a wonderful addition to an interesting day in California. In fact we took so long enjoying the delicious lunch, we had very little time to tour the rest of the Napa valley.

Spring Wine (Or Spring Break)

Lovely Scenery - Terrible Roads!
For those who are not RVers, the trailers and Rvs I am writing about are basically houses built on a steel truck frame. Some of the real classic trailers like the Airstream are built with an aluminium, frame, and some like the Boler we had are a nice fibreglass shell mounted on a steel frame. The Boler was an amazing trailer, light, strong and well designed, but it looked like two fibreglass bathtubs pop riveted together with some windows and a door cut into the sides. Modern RVer, insist on oak cupboards, flat screen TVs, arm chairs, and microwaves. In other words they want a “Home away from Home”, and they want it to look and feel like home. The result is a big square wooden structure like a house attached to a truck frame. But of course to tow it behind even a big truck it has to be light, the result is a compromise, and it results in shifting, bending, and breaking. Nothing ever broke on the Boler in years of service, but so far , we've bent a wheel, the back venetian blind has fallen down twice, one light fixture fell off, and two cupboard door handles have fallen off. Oh, yea, two of the springs that keep all this “homeyness” rolling down the road have broken.

Looking back, I suspect that the loud bang we heard as Regis was coming down the twisty narrow mountain roads in Yosemite National Park was one of the springs finally giving up and snapping, but I didn't notice it then. The trailer was making a lot of noise, but it does on bumpy roads anyway, so we didn't worry about it. However in the morning as I was checking everything over prior to leaving San Francisco to drive up the coast, I noticed that one spring was broken in half, with just one end holding the axle in place. We were not going far with that. We had a spare, but dad must have cleaned that out when getting ready for the trip. We went to the local RV shop, but although he could get the part, he could not do the work today. I elected to pick up the part and do it myself.

I got everything apart, and in the process discovered that a spring on the other side was also broken but not so bad. Fortunately I had bought two springs just in case. When I went to put the nice shiny new spring into place, it would not fit. A measurement revealed I was sold 26” springs and needed 23” ones. A phone call informed me that 23” ones were not in stock and would have to be ordered – a two day wait. We reregistered at the campground, put things back together (as good as the stripped threads, and bent brackets would allow), and went back to the site.

So with two more days in San Francisco, we have decided to take the rest of the day to just relax here. I worked on a walking stick, Regis tried to keep up on her reading for all her book clubs back home, dad took a nap, and Sharon found some temporary “Grandkids” Next door to make a fuss over (Sorry Jasmine, Nicki, Alex and Drew). Tomorrow we will leave the trailer here and go up the coast in the truck and visit some of the California Napa valley wineries. Life is tough!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Between a Rock & a Hard Place

Note trees & big rock . . . . .
When traveling with an RV, you need to find a place to park every night. With a 28 foot trailer, you need plenty of room to maneuver,  so a site that you can simply pull into (a “pull-through”) is easiest. The compromise with these however is that they tend to be open sites with no shade.  In 30 - 40 degree heat, a bit of shade is appreciated, but although I’m getting better a backing the trailer into tight spots, we usually ask for the easier pull-through sites.

After driving through Death Valley, we started looking for a campsite. We were headed towards Yosemite National Park, and although there were lots of RVs and big trailers on the roads with us, the trend seemed to be towards smaller unserviced sites for tents or small trailers. There were lots of sites in Yosemite, and the various state parks, and forests, but after a long hot drive through Death Valley, we wanted water, electricity, and a hot shower. Regis found a place called “Pine Cliff Resort”, that had over 300 sites, and plenty had services, so we headed there.

The first indication of trouble was when we couldn’t see the sign for the park. After going by, and taking a scenic tour to the nearby town, we were pointed back where we came from. This time we saw a little sign peeking out of the weeds on the left side of the road - the instructions in the book said “enter on right” - no wonder we didn't see it. At least we had found the park.

While waiting for Dad & Sharon to register, Jasper and I observed that this park was going to have plenty of shade, built into the side of the mountain, and full of huge tall pine trees.

Dad come back with rather sketchy instruction to our site. “Go around that big rock, either side is OK, between those trees, and back in there. Just getting there was interesting, having to judge where to turn the truck to keep the trailer from clipping the trees and huge rocks. When we got there the site looked pretty tight, and there was not much room to maneuver. The fellow parked behind the site, stood up from his table and came over, "You gonna try to put that trailer in there? My Buddy took eight tries to get in there and his was smaller than yours. The guy across the road chimed in "I'll move my truck; you'll need all the room you can get!"

With Dad, Regis and Sharon guiding me, and with a few suggestions from the neighbors, I started backing in. There was a large pine tree on either side of the entrance to the site, and a large rock on one side. There was a concrete pad on the other side, and the power and water stuck up beside the rock. I almost got it in, but got too close to the tree with the truck. Even with tucking the mirror in, it was not going to work. I pulled out and tried again, no, still too close to the tree. I got out and looked everything over. I pulled out and tried to start further up the road, pulling almost into the site across the road - good thing he moved his truck. This time I got the trailer in, but we realized that it had to be over so the tires were almost touching the concrete pad in order for the slideout to come out without hitting the power and water. Another try and I got it in pretty well - Check level? No, . . .  got to pull forward to block one side. This time everything looked good, and both neighbors congratulated us for getting it in. I felt good since it took his "buddy" eight tries.

In the morning we had to get back out. Dad had gone for a walk to scope out the best way to exit the night before with Jasper the RV Dog, and they thought they had it cased.

Dad pulled out of the site fine. Up the road, and around the Fish cleaning house (Yup - they had a fish cleaning house), and out between two trees. The trees were close, so we asked the fellow across the road to move his truck. He said "No problem, but you should know that the last guy who tried to come out this way got himself wedged in tight." We got out and it was pretty close, but we were committed by now. Dad inched the trailer forward, but there was no way it would fit. The awning was going to catch on the tree. He had to back up and try again. The fellow on the other side came out of his trailer and added "Watch the slope by the tree on the left - if you come too close to that one, it will tip your trailer into the other tree. Dad backed it up again, moving a bit to the left but not so much to tip the trailer. He inched it forward and I guided him, the awning just touched, chipping the bark, but not anything serious. We had made it out.

Dad suggested that it looked quite a bit wider last night.

I think we will look for a pull-through tomorrow.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Las Vegas in 90 Minutes

Las Vegas
We are visiting lots of places on this trip, but ultimately our goal, and purpose is to visit my sister in British Columbia and attend her son’s wedding. As a result we are driving through many places that could be vacation destination on their own. Las Vegas, Nevada is an example, we arrived at about 2:00 pm, but planned to leave for Death Valley in the morning. We had to see Las Vegas in one evening.

The campground staff recommended, we get a 24 hour ticket for the “Deuce”, a double decker bus that we could use all evening and could hop off and on whenever we wanted. While waiting for the bus, we struck up a conversation with another visitor who had already been using the bus, and she suggested some good places to visit. She said that most of the big casinos allowed anyone to just wander the premises. Most of them have some big attraction to lure prospective gamblers in, and they are usually free.

We discovered that the campground really was, as advertised, “within walking distance” of the famous “Las Vegas Strip”, and in fact it was close to some of the biggest casinos. We were just a couple of blocks from Caesar’s Palace, the Ballagio Casino, as well as two or three other well known casinos The campground itself is attached to the Circus Circus Casino, which is itself a huge one.

We hopped off the bus at Caesar’s Palace, and were presented with Las Vegas in all her excessive, opulent, glory. You really just had to pause a moment at take it all in. These casinos are absolutely huge. You can wander around them for hours. They have entire shopping malls under their roofs, and you have at least ten choices of eatery, everything from VERY high end restaurants, to fast food chains. You can get your hair cut, your nails done, your entire body massaged, and pretty much anything else you might want. Yes, I really think you could get “anything” without leaving the casino complex. The reminded me of a cruise ship only on a much bigger scale with much more emphasis on the casino aspect.

Las Vegas Lake?
We wandered through Caesar’s Palace, the Bellagio, and Circus Circus, and I think this gave us a pretty good idea of Las Vegas. Circus Circus had a carnival, circus theme, complete with a huge indoor amusement park with roller coaster, flume ride and kiddie merry-go-round, a circus big top, and all the expected “carny” games and booths. Regis, Sharon, and I went here after dark, and they said they were glad I was there to lead them back to the RV, because if they were alone they would have still been wearily wandering around this morning trying to find their way home.

I know that given time to really explore Las Vegas, you would discover that it is more than just huge opulent casinos (or maybe not), and I’d like to come back, stay at one of the hotel/casino complexes and see more of “The City that never sleeps” but I think our little one evening visit gave us a pretty good slice of this city.

Jasper the RV Dog

Jasper the RV Dog
There are actually five of us on this trip. Dad’s little nine pound Rottweiler, Jasper (he is actually a Shih-Tzu) is along with us, and very much a part of the company.

We have taken our cat across the country with us, but she just stayed in the RV. A dog is a lot more work. He has to be walked, and given a chance to do his social networking duties - peeing on things to announce he was there.

Jasper did not start out as a good traveler. He wants to go, but when he gets in the truck, he will not settle down, panting, and pacing. He wants to sit on someone’s lap and that is not allowed; he does not understand why he cannot sit on a lap. We decided that we had to establish his boundaries, and decided to put him on the floor when he wouldn’t behave. He found a way around this, by simply deciding that the floor was his favorite spot - so much for punishment!

He actually settled in pretty good, and has developed a routine. He now goes into the back seat, and almost immediately settles down on the floor. He moves back and forth from side to side, but sometimes, is so quiet, that “where is the dog?” is a common expression. He can tuck himself under the back seat so we can’t even see him.

There are two things that Jasper does not like, lightning, and rumble strips. He gets so upset he does not know what to do. He wants up, he wants down, he wants . . . . he doesn’t know what he wants. Actually he just wants the lightning to stop! The rumble strips are another matter. He used to panic every time you drove over one. Of course with the trailer it is worse because eight tires instead of four are rumbling. On a narrow little road in Pennsylvania there were not only rumble strips on the side of the road, but also in the middle. You couldn’t avoid them in a fifty foot long vehicle. Poor Jasper was frantic. The trip has actually been good for helping him learn that the rotten rumble strips can’t hurt him, because after 17 days, he is getting used to them, and unless you are on them a long time he ignores them.

Jasper had a very traumatic experience last evening. The KOA RV park had a very nice “doggie playground”, and I was teasing Dad and Sharon, that if they were good doggie parents, they would take him over there to play. Sharon finally agreed, and I went with them. There were two big ugly white dogs there already, but as soon as we opened the gate their owners assured us their dogs was “OK”. Sharon let Jasper off his leash, and he started exploring, ignoring the other dogs.

Not so with the other “OK” dogs, one charged at him, running him over in a cloud of dust, and chomped down on him. The owner immediately yelled “No, he is too small to play with!”, and came to separate them. I think they actually thought he was a nice moving “chew toy”. By then, the owners were upset, and as a result their dogs got upset, and the other one went after Jasper as he tried to get away. Fortunately he wasn’t hurt, but he definitely did not like being used as a “chew toy”. He did not like going to the “doggie playground” after that.

As I write this we are rolling down highway 95 towards Death Valley (Harolyn’s advice), and Jasper is happily sleeping under the back seat by Regis’ feet. He seems to be settling into this RV trip just fine.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Ain't It Grand

The Grand Canyon
When we stared planning this trip, the one place that Regis wanted to see was the Grand Canyon, so it was set as our goal as we worked our way across the United States. It was as far south as we would go on this trip.

We had a terrible time getting information on the Grand Canyon. We did not know the best way to get there, we did not know what to expect when we got there, and we were not sure if we should camp close, or camp in a nearby city and drive to the canyon. We stopped at the Arizona welcome centre, and the extent of the help we got there was being handed various brochures. When we asked about routes to drive to the canyon we were told to go a particular way because she felt traffic on the route that followed the south rim would be like rush hour. "30 miles of 30 mph driving", she warned.

We elected to stay in Flagstaff, Arizona for two days and spend the one full day at the canyon with the truck. We ignored the Welcome Centre's advice and drove the "busy" south rim route. We were the only car on the road at times, and had no backups or congestion, and there was always lots of room to park at the scenic overlooks. This route takes you straight up to the canyon, and then snakes along the southern rim of the canyon, providing many spots to pull off to look out over the canyon and take pictures.

At one point a sign warned that there could be mountain lions for the next 15 miles. Then, about two miles further there was a picnic area with a family happily eating. Does this really make sense? Didn't these folks realize that in a "mountain lion" zone, the picnic area, was for the lions, and they were the picnic . . . . Don't these people read the signs?

The Colorado River
The Grand Canyon is one of those "Must See" attractions, and there are so many pictures of it, that you have a preconceived idea of what to expect. It is actually exactly what we expected, and was every bit as spectacular as we expected. There are so many different layers of rock and it is just so huge that every stop provided something different to see. At one point we saw a sheer cliff to the bottom, another we could see the rapids on the river below, and on one stop we saw California Condors gracefully soaring above the canyon. The canyon changes by the hour, and the views over the canyon are different in the morning and afternoon, and although we did not stay to watch the sun set over the canyon, we were able to see how the lengthening shadows made particular rock formations stand out and certain colours become dominant. I took my camera with nice fresh batteries, and lots of room on the memory card, and I took hundreds of photos, but it is very hard to capture the grandeur of the Grand Canyon.
At The Grand Canyon

We knew what to expect; I can only imagine what early explorers or pre-internet vacationers must have felt coming across this incredible landmark for the first time. It is aptly named, and really is "Grand". Put it on your "bucket list".

Tramway Flight

The Tramway
Albuquerque is home to the worlds longest tramway. It is over two and a half miles long, and has one section that is over one and a quarter miles long between support towers. It climbs to the 10,378 foot Sandia Peak, where you can see over 11,000 square miles. We were in Albuquerque overnight, and had time to take in one attraction, so this sounded like a good choice.

We arrived at about 6:00, so I was a bit worried about the impending darkness spoiling our view, but this was not a problem. In fact, the sun was just setting as we came back down, and provided a spectacular sunset background to the decent.

For the "uninitiated", a tramway is a rectangular box with windows, holding about 30 people attached to a steal cable that is pulled up and down that cable by large steel wheels. The cable is supported by tall towers up the mountain. Because this tramway has to cross a large canyon, it has one extremely long unsupported cable run and this is why they call the tramway ride a "flight".

Beautiful Views from the Top
Our "pilot" for the flight was a very pleasant fellow, who also emptied the garbage cans (he also said he cleaned the washrooms when I commented on his varied jobs). As we ascended the mountain, he told us all about the  Various geological features of the mountain as well as the engineering feats necessary to build the tramway. It took over 3000 helicopter flights to build one of the towers that support the tramway.

Unfortunately, due to extreme fire hazard, the mountain was completely closed, and we were warned to stay on the observation decks. The National Forest has many hiking trails that would have made for interesting adventures. One trail about two miles in length, would have taken us to a hiker's shelter with beautiful 360 degree views of the area. There was a restaurant at the top, where we could have eaten, but we just enjoyed the nice cool mountain temperatures for a while and then went back down.
Tourists at the Top. 

We were told about about black bears, mountain goats, falcons, and even cougars, but even with everyone searching the rocks and trees passing below us, we saw nothing except a couple of scraggly squirrels stealing scraps from the garbage. I think this is just a corporate strategy to keep people occupied on the flight so they don't worry about the 1000 foot drop, and the tramway built in 1965.

Sunset on Sandia Peak
The flight back down the mountain, was against a beautiful setting sun, and proved even more entertaining than the ascent. One passenger started asking very detailed questions, and the pilot was completely up to the task, rattling off information about not only the Sandia Peak, but everything we could see. There were three extinct volcanoes, and we learned how the mountains formed, and how the valley below was silted in when the area was an inland sea. The sea still exists in the form of a huge underground aquifer that supplies the water necessary to support a city the size of Albuquerque.

Travel Planner

When Regis & I retired our primary goal was to "Not Work", but following closely behind was a desire to travel. We had a taste of travel while working, and found we both really enjoyed it, but when working, we were limited it where and when we could travel.

Planning the trip - With wine!
Some people like to just leave home, and see where they end up, but although that can give some interesting adventures, it is as likely to end in disappointment or disaster. The secret to consistently positive travel experiences is planning. Some people use travel services such as bus tours where everything is preplanned and organized for you, or get a good travel agent who can use their experience to help plan a positive travel experience.

Although we have a great travel agent, who helps us get the best value for our travel budget, I have discovered the best travel planner in the world - Regis.

She even plans work for me.
Those who know her, probably already know her phenomenal ability to plan events. Just suggest going somewhere, and she will jump in with ideas and suggestions. If the suggestions become an actual vacation, she immediately goes into "Planner" mode, and the Internet slows up for the rest of you as she researches options.

We really have never had a bad travel experience - no wait a minute the RV horror across the country was a bit negative, but that can be blamed on me, as it was all mechanical problems with the our motorhome, and I'm in charge of those sort of issues.

No, if Regis is in charge of the planning, you can almost guarantee things will go well.

Good Planning - Happy Campers
An example of this is the RV parks we must stop in every afternoon. On this trip, we have had amazing experience in every RV park. Regis has criteria she looks for, including price, convenience, and clean washrooms. I think the only bad washroom was the one in St. Louis and it was me that researched that park. She looks in the Woodal's Campground Directory for possible parks, cross references it with our Passport America book, and then if we have an Internet connection, she researches it there, reading reviews (they must be above 7 out of 10) and visiting their websites.

I must admit, I am getting a bit spoiled with her amazing planning ability; I simply do not worry about traveling, knowing that my personal travel planner has everything organized. I know the trips will all work out. Thanks Regis!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dinner with Black Bart

Black Bart's -Arizona
There were not that many RV parks in Flagstaff, Arizona, and after our Travel Planner researched the available choices, we chose a place called "Black Barts". It wasn't perfect, with reviews of 7, 2, and 6, with a number of questionable areas, but we decided it was the best available.

We noted in the advertisements and in the reviews, that it had a steakhouse restaurant, but the places attached to campgrounds are not usually that good. The reviews on the steakhouse, like the campground were mixed, but after some discussion it was decided to give Black Bart at chance; it was convenient, and we have not had such good luck finding good "local" eateries.

We made a reservation (it was recommended - usually a good sign) for 6:00, and as the girls liked the looks of the attached "saloon", decided to go there to get their "fancy drinks with lots of ice" before dinner.

Checking out the Drink Menu
We arrived at about 5:30 MST, to an empty restaurant. Staff were just setting things up. This was not a good sign. That was when we discovered that Arizona does not follow daylight savings time, so although the state is in the "mountain" time zone, it was actually only 4:30 here. We were greeted nicely and told they would be ready in a few minutes, and the bartender in the saloon was just getting set up. They had no objections to us waiting there.

The girl behind the counter apologized for not being ready, even though it was our fault, and she chatted about local food, weather, and the Grand Canyon as she polished glasses, and filled ice bins. When she was ready (prior to official opening time) she gave advice on drinks, local "craft" beer, and wine. We spent a very pleasant 30 minutes talking to her over our drinks and got more useful information about the area from her than the grin at the Arizona Welcome centre.

In the actual restaurant (we changed our reservation), we were greeted by friendly hostesses and servers, singing as they prepared the tables. We were seated in front of the stage - did I mention there was entertainment? The menu was simple, but there was something there for everyone, and our server said it was no problem to leave the onions off my salad - usually a sign it is freshly made.

Four waiter/singers
As we waited for our meal, the wait staff went up to the stage one at a time and sang to piano accompaniment. The songs were mostly show tunes, and Sharon's singing along told us they were pretty good at this. It really was very entertaining; all the waiters and waitresses, took a turn, and they were all quite talented.

Talented Bartender
I asked one of the young girls waiting on us if singing was part of the job interview, or if they were hired based on ability as a waiter and then told "Oh, did we mention you have to sing every night?". She explained that singing was part of the interview, and many of the staff were from the fine arts programs at the local university.

We noticed that although all the wait staff took part in the entertainment, the bartender we had gotten to know earlier, did not, so we commented on this to our server. Five minutes later out she came, went up to the stage, and sang a song. She stopped on the way back to the saloon, and thanked us for asking for her.

Oh, by the way, our meals were excellent!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cadillac Ranch

Cadillacs in a Field
Years ago, I saw a piece in one of my automotive magazines about the Cadillac Ranch, where someone took a bunch of old Caddies and planted them in the ground. They were each planted slightly off perpendicular, with the front half under the ground, and the iconic Cadillac fins sticking up in the air. The cars were from the late fifties and early sixties, so they were from the hey-days of "big fins". The cars were complete, with tires, windows, and chrome, and were in original condition, as if someone just drove them into the ground.

Paint Job!
I'm not sure when I first read of this man-made automotive attraction, but it is probably 10 or more years ago. As we drove towards the campground in Amarillo Texas, I saw the Cadillacs sticking out of the ground off in a field to the left of the highway. The campground even had a RV planted front first with the rear wheels sticking up un the air.

On the way out for BBQ that evening we stopped so I could walk across the field and get some pictures of the Cadillac Ranch.

Classic Cadillac
The ranch really hasn't weathered the years and the human attention very well. The cars are still there, they still are planted in a neat row with the distinct Cadillac fins in the air. One car has nothing but the rear axle and trunk left, and there is no glass or trim left. The remaining tires are nothing but chunks of rubber hanging on the rims.

The biggest change in the paint. All the cars are completely covered with day-glow spray paint, vandalized and tagged by hundreds of visitors. As you walk towards the cars, your initial reaction is sadness That it had been "ruined", but as you get closer, you realize that rather than seeing it as vandalized, it has actually been changed into something new, different and interesting.

Cadillac Ranch
The cars are now completely covered in new paint from spray cans. This new paint it probably over half an inch thick in places. While I was there there were two groups of people painting their "tags" on each car and taking pictures of their work. As each person visits with their collection of spray cans, they paint over other tags, so the cars are constantly changing. It really has become a completely different attraction. Where before it was a static visual thing, it had changed into a constantly changing interactive piece of Automotive art.

A lesson learned; things change, keep an open mind and instead of getting upset at the change, embrace it and enjoy what it has become.

Rollin' cross Texas

Texas Rest Stop
This morning we left Amirilla and are rolling across that square part on the top of Texas heading towards New Mexico.

The land here is completely flat. Regis was given instructions to something, and was told to "Turn at the bottom of the hill.". When she asked "Hill . . What hill?", she was pointed towards the highway overpass. There are no hills (well, except for the ones from Nova Scotia) here except for the man made ones from the highway. As you look out, you always see way more sky than land - no wonder they call it the land of "Big sky".

It is dry and brown as far as you can see. There are very few trees, and they are grouped around the houses or towns. You see patches of green occasionally, but it is always agricultural land and you can expect to see the long automated irrigation machines slowly inching across the fields spraying a fine mist of water. Nothing grows here without being watered.

Texas Big Sky
We are driving on Interstate I40. We have been on the same road for two days, and do not have switch routes until sometime tomorrow. There is a local road running parallel to the highway on either side, and the exits and access to the highway are simply short roads leading to the local roads. The traffic on the local roads are supposed to yield to the Interstate traffic exiting or entering the highway, but we discovered they do not always watch for the Interstate traffic. Although, we always kept to these "official" exits, it is obvious from the tire tracks across the yellow grass on the road edges, that the locals do not bother with them. If they need to exit or enter the highway they just drive across the grass. There are no ditches, fences or barriers, just a slight dip in places. Even towing the trailer we would have no trouble driving off the highway over the grass.

I thought that Texas was the land of oil, but we have seen more wind farms than oil wells. This is a perfect place for these giant windmills, as it seems that a steady strong hot wind blows constantly.

As you drive through areas where humans have attempted to tame this land, you see the occasional "rust fields". Unlike back home, where the salt in the air and the roads along with the moisture completely destroy machinery, here it rusts more slowly, so fields gather generations of derelict farm vehicles and machinery, slowly rusting away, sandblasted by the constant wind. The cars and trucks look perfect, just old and rusty.

As we drive through this section, there is par hed brown land as far as you can see. It is fenced, and there are even a few cattle, but you can see no houses or signs of human dwelling. Who owns all this land?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Driving Music

Jasper Helping Blog
I can't drive quite as long and far as I used to be able to, but I still really enjoy driving. Put me behind the wheel and point me in the right direction and I will settle into a comfortable routine and put a lot of miles on the vehicle. I do however have to have appropriate "Driving" music.

Originally I used to have to play with the radio to find suitable radio stations, but CDs changed that and a case full of CDs could provide hours of good driving music. The IPod has however completely changed music in the car. I have 2300 songs on my  IPod Shuffle sorted into almost 100 different playlists. I can pick a type of music for any occasion. My "Blues" playlist has over 1100 songs and has gotten all the way from Halifax to Ottawa without repeating.

This morning as we head towards Texas, I have my "County Shuffle" playing. I realize that I should build a "Texas Blues" playlist, which would also work for this section of road.

I have a good "Rock & Roll" playlist that got me across the eastern states, the country music has some acoustic country and bluegrass (thanks Fred!) for through the Ozarks and Kentucky, and driving through Memphis last year with my "5 star Blues coming from the speakers just seemed right! I have a playlist called "Best Singles" built around a book called "The 100 Best Singles Ever Written" given to me by a friend who also appreciates good music (Thanks Jim). I even have a few playlists on the IPod for regis to play when she drives (piano music or Tom Jones) - gives me a chance to catch a bit of "shut-eye".

Mystic Oars
I also have a playlist entitled simply "Driving Music". Every song is about driving, cars, trucks, and trains. Somehow I just figured train songs belonged here. There are five versions of "Mustang Sally", three of "Hot Rod Lincoln", and two of "Racing in the Streets". Every time I find a song that fits, I add it to this playlist. If I'm not sure what type of music is appropriate to the day's drive, this playlist works. There are 150 songs currently in this playlist. I know reading this has got you thinking about your favorite "driving" song, but if it's about driving, or cars, I'll bet I have it in the playlist. E-mail me your favorite songs for the list?

I have The Beach Boys all ready for the drive up the California coast.

Heat in the Heartland

Dry & Hot in Texas

I don't know what the weather is like back home in Nova Scotia, but it is HOT and sunny down here in America's heartland.

We had rain one night, and it rained when we walked downtown in St. Louis, but the rest of the time it has been sunny and hot every day.

Today we are driving through Oklahoma on our way to Texas at 9:30 in the morning, there is not a cloud in the sky, and the thermometer in the truck is reading 32. There is a steady strong wind, but the wind is so hot if feels like it is blowing out of a heater.

All day yesterday the temperatures stayed at 40, and for a while it got as high as 43. Regis went into a service station while I was refueling, and she made a comment about the heat. "Yup," the attendant replied, "We're lucky today, it was supposed to go up to 115, but it only reached 110."

Yup, it is HOT!
She was was buying some ice-cream bars for everyone, and the attendant looked at the strawberry ice she was getting for me and he said, "You know, I've never tried them berry ones; I think today is a good day to do that."

The warmest it has been was when the thermometer in the truck reached 46, but that might have been just because a big black truck tends to soak up the sun, and the temperature dropped to 43 as we drove a while.
Texas Rest Stop - HOT!

I love the heat, and dad doesn't complain about it, but the girls do not like it so much, demanding fancy drinks with lots of ice at the end of the day's drive, and Jasper is tending to take it a bit slower.

I wonder how hot it will be in Texas, or New Mexico when we get there. You tend to put things in perspective, so although 30 degrees is "sweltering" back home, we are getting to the point that we see 30 as a "nice" day.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Branson, Missouri

Camping in Branson
If you look for Branson, Missouri on a map, you will see that it is not really on the major routes across the country. Branson sits between two National Forests, about 100 km below Interstate 44 running East/West. It is a nice little town in the Ozark mountains, but no one would have much reason to drop off the Interstate and drive down to visit Branson. I don't actually know the History of Branson, but it looks to me that someone decided to do something to bring people to their town, and it looks like the strategy worked pretty well. Mom and Dad came here 15 years ago, and Dad wanted to come back this year. Last year on our trip to Nashville we almost made a side trip to Branson. Millions of people make this trip every year. We have been here two days, and could spend much longer.

5 & 10
Downtown Branson is a historical little town and has a fascinating store called “Dick's 5 & 10”. You can't get much for 5 or 10 cents any more, but the store is absolutely packed from floor to ceiling with thousands of interesting items. There are other shops and services but not enough to bring hundreds of cars a day to the town.

Branson's secret to success lies on Highway 76 leading out of town. There you will find, “3 Redneck Tenors”, “Acrobats of China”, “Baldknobbers”, “Buckets & Boards”, “The Duttons”, “Pierce Arrow”, “Shoji Tabuchi”, “Six”, or “Yakov Live”. These are just a few of almost 100 live shows playing in their own theatres almost every night, all year. Country music, Rock & Roll, Gospel, Comedy, Murder Mysteries, Dinner theatre, there is something for any taste.
Downtown Branson

To provide spaces for all the visitors to Branson, hundreds of hotels, motels, resorts, condos, have sprung up. There is everything from old fashioned roadside motels, to giant convention centres. One even advertised the "cleanest bathrooms in town." There are “theme” hotels, there are Golf Course Condos, there are Family motels and there are huge resorts trying to be everything to everyone. If like us, you prefer to bring your home with you, there are thousands of campsites scattered around the town, some like the one we choose are within walking distance of some of the shows.

Of course if you came, you will need to eat, so there are as many restaurants as there are theatres. You can get any style of food you prefer

If you get tired of music shows, someone thought of this, and there are other attractions. How about “Ride the Ducks”, “Branson Auto Museum”, “Castle of Choas”, “Ziplines”, “Branson Scenic Railway”, or “Titanic”. There are wineries, Factory Outlet centres, IMAX Theatres, and of course the natural beauty of the surrounding forests and lakes of the Ozark mountains.

Everywhere we go on this trip across the United States, we see signs of the dismal economy, and people are definitely suffering, but the town of Branson continues to do all they can to bring tourist dollars to their town.